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Stephen Johns set to make NHL debut Friday

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars
Back in the summer, Stephen Johns thought he had a good shot at playing with the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Now, he’ll be making his NHL debut against the Blackhawks as a Dallas Star Friday night at American Airlines Center.

Johns, a top defense prospect with Chicago last season, saw his path to the NHL take a dramatic turn in July when he got a call from Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman letting him know that he had been traded to Dallas along with Patrick Sharp for Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt.

“All of a sudden my life changed on a dime,” Johns said. “It was a little bit of a whirlwind at first, didn’t know what to think or what to feel. Let it settle in for a few days, came to Dallas for a couple of days and I honestly couldn’t be more excited to be part of this organization.”

On Wednesday, Johns got word of another change. He was about to go from being a defenseman in the AHL to being one in the NHL. Dallas recalled Johns from the Texas Stars, and that meant Johns had to make a few calls to share the news.

“My dad didn’t answer, so I called my mom, just told her the news and from there it was my brother, my sister, a couple of my best buds back home,” Johns said. “I think that was the coolest part of it all, just seeing everyone’s reaction, seeing the support from my friends, my family, my community back home. I come from a small place [in Pennsylvania], so when something like that happens, it’s a big deal. To see their support and how much they’ve been following me, it’s unbelievable.”

The Stars recalled Johns due to injuries to defensemen John Klingberg (lower body), Jason Demers (shoulder) and Jordie Benn (lower body). Demers is out at least six weeks, and Klingberg and Benn will miss at least the next two games, meaning Johns will be in the lineup Friday and Saturday as the Stars take on the Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues in two key Central Division games.

“It will be a great opportunity for him,” said Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I realize with his first game there will probably be some nerves involved. It’s his former team. It’s ironic how things have worked out. He’s played very well down in Texas. We need him to step in and play well because we are counting pretty heavily now on three of our younger D to help us keep this thing moving forward.”

The 23-year-old Johns, a right-handed shot who is listed at 6-4, 225 pounds, has played well in the AHL this season, registering 24 points (4 goals, 20 assists) and a plus-7 rating in 55 games with Texas. He’s tied for third on the team with 124 shots on goal.

With Dallas carrying eight defensemen this season, Johns, who is a second-year pro, has had to be patient and wait for his chance at the NHL. Before Wednesday, the Stars had recalled a defenseman only once from the AHL this season and Esa Lindell got the nod that time. Now, it’s John’s turn.

“It’s a process. I’m still young. I knew it was going to happen eventually. I just had to wait my turn,” Johns said. “Unfortunately, some injuries up here happened, but you have to take advantage of the opportunity. Hope those guys get back soon. Just trying to be here as long as I can and try to play my game.”

That first game will come against Chicago, the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2010 NHL Draft.

“It doesn’t matter who I get my first game against,” said Johns, who will have family attending the game on Friday. “I just want to play in the NHL and play for a long time. It just so happens to be against the Hawks, which is pretty rare. It’s pretty funny, but I’ll be excited for sure.”

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on DallasStars.com reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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